Can Agile Development Change the Culture of Public-Sector Procurement?

Companies are competing to be selected for California's pool of agile developers. One developer hopes openness will improve its chances.

by / June 13, 2016
CivicActions co-founder and CEO Henry Poole CivicActions

Proponents of agile development say that if the state of California does it correctly, the approach could potentially change the culture surrounding how tech companies compete for state contracts.

The thought goes that agile could help the state move away from a model some critics believe rewards companies for maintaining a closed off and secretive stance on their procurement bids.

In at least one recent instance, there is anecdotal evidence that agile is doing exactly that.

Berkeley, Calif.-based CivicActions is among the group of agile developers competing to be one of 15 firms selected for a new vendor pool that the California Health and Human Services Agency is forming to draw on as needed for state projects.

In order to be considered, companies must develop a working prototype of open source software that enables parents of foster children to manage profiles online, view children's residential facilities in their ZIP code and communicate through a private inbox. The entries are due today.

CivicActions decided to invite other agile developers to use a group of California foster parents it knew who would be prospective users of the software prototype. The company identified more than 20 parents who were interested, when only two or three were needed.

The company also posted its open source code for the prototype on GitHub as well as transcripts from its interviews with parents.

"Although the old custom would be to isolate our work from other bidders on the same request for information, we default to open," the firm explained on its blog.

Henry Poole, co-founder and CEO of CivicActions, said that type of collaboration is common among agile developers and could be a departure from the position of "traditional" vendors that California has worked with in the past. Poole said he hopes collaborating will improve, not hurt, his company's chances of being picked for California vendor pool.

"To open this up is pretty normal for us," Poole said.

In the end, Poole said he's a California taxpayer and wants the best vendor pool for the state, even if his company doesn't make it.

CivicActions took a similar open approach last summer competing for the federal government's agile vendor pool that California's is modeled after. And it's not the first time the company has shared an asset: Poole recounted a time several years ago when his company gave away a proprietary spreadsheet for estimating the cost of developing websites.

"In our business, it's talent. It's all about the people. If you have sharp people who work well together and are open in their communication, then you get more work done. It's more fun and the deliverables are better," Poole said.

This article was originally published on TechWire.

Matt Williams Contributing Writer

Matt Williams was previously the news editor of Govtech.com, and is now a contributor to Government Technology and Public CIO magazines. He also previously served as the managing editor of TechWire, a sister publication to Government Technology.2